The Truth About the Generations and Job Hopping

Last Updated Sep 30, 2010 7:39 AM EDT

Gen Y has caught a lot of flack for having a bad case of professional ADD. Entrepreneur Jason Calacanis even accused job-hopping young people of destroying America. But do the numbers really bear out the complaint that 20-somethings are the worst offenders when it comes to job hopping?

Monika Hamori, a professor at IE Business School in Madrid, takes to the HBR Conversation blog to set the record straight with some new data on who changes jobs frequently. And it turns out that when it comes to Boomers complaining about fickle young people, it's a case of those in glass houses throwing stones. Hamori reports,

The recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the number of jobs held by the later Baby Boomers -- the generation born between 1957 and 1964 -- showed that Late Boomers have been busy hopping between employers. In fact, between ages 18 and 44, the Late Boomers have had an average of 11 employers, which translates into a job change every 2.4 years.
If there are Boomers our there with a handful of justifications and explanations for these numbers, Hamori is prepared to dismantle them. Think all the job hopping was confined to Boomers early years? Not according to the numbers.
During the time of life (ages of 18-22) when most people move between school and summer jobs, the Late Boomers held an average of 4.4 jobs. However, they kept moving even at more mature ages: they had 2.6 jobs between ages 28-32, and at ages 39-44 they still held an average of 2 jobs. Among the jobs that 39- to 44-year-olds started, one third ended in less than a year.
And how about the argument that the sample includes the whole of the US working population, including those in lower-paid and often more unstable jobs? No dice on that excuse either, says Hamori.
This explanation, however, does not hold here. Late Boomer men without a high school diploma held an average of 13.3 jobs, but men with at least a bachelor's degree still had many jobs: 11. In the case of women, uneducated ones, in fact, had fewer jobs (9.7) than their degreed counterparts (11.7 jobs).
The conclusions that can be drawn from these figures about what's going on in the labor market is an open question, but one thing is for sure. Job hopping isn't simply a Gen Y problem, and any explanation that sites only the character and upbringing of young workers for perceived disloyalty doesn't match up with the picture painted by the data.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Hamed Saber, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.